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Receiver, Fifth Wheel, or Goosneck: Trailer Hitches Demystified

Feb 3, 2008
Do you want to haul a boat, an ATV trailer, a work trailer, or a camper? Obviously, you need a trailer hitch. Trailer hitches have all kinds of handy uses and are invaluable on the rear of your truck or SUV. If you have or need a trailer hitch, you probably have the most common type which is a receiver hitch, but if you have a vehicle with lots of power and a heavy load to haul, you might have a gooseneck or a fifth wheel hitch.

A receiver hitch is fabricated from metal and bolted to rear of your vehicle's frame. What shows in the back of the car, under the rear bumper is a "hole," usually 1-2 inches square. To haul with this hitch, a person simply has to insert and secure a ball shank. This is the square metal tube that fits into the receiver and on which the trailer ball is mounted. To hitch some thing to a receiver hitch, you simply drop the ball coupler of your trailer onto the hitch ball and secure it.

Receiver hitches come in Class I through Class IV sizes. Weight tolerances increase with the class number (so a class III hitch can haul more weight than a class I hitch). Ball sizes and shank sizes also vary according to your needs. Class II and III receiver hitches are the most common and can haul up to 3500 lbs (class II) and up to 5,000 lbs (class III).

It is important to note not only the maximum weight your hitch and ball can handle, but also your towing vehicle's weight maximums. If you have a class III hitch (hauls up to 5,000 gross trailer weight), but your vehicle is only rated to haul 3,500 lbs; you have to stay below that 3,500 lbs. Otherwise your steering and braking won't be enough to control a load that big, and you will be a hazard on the road.

If you need to haul more weight, and your tow vehicle can handle it, there are weight distributing hitches that work with a receiver hitch to increase safety on the road. If you need to haul a whole lot more weight, you should consider a gooseneck or 5th wheel trailer hitch. Gooseneck hitches look like a (you guessed it), gooseneck and they arch up over the rear of your truck to attach to a ball mounted on the floor of the truck bed. These hitches can often haul 30,000 lbs, so make sure your truck can handle it!

You have probably seen many Fifth Wheel hitches on the highway or around campgrounds as they are often used to haul the biggest camping trailers. Like the gooseneck, the point of attachment for the trailer and truck is in the truck bed. But, unlike the gooseneck, the fifth wheel hitch is much more than a ball, it's a pin that slides down into a hitch raised above the bed floor of your pickup. Depending on your hitch, fifth wheels can haul 15,000 to 30,000 lbs.

Now that you know something about the different types of trailer hitches, make sure to educate yourself on towing safety and vehicle requirements for the type of trailer you want to haul.
About the Author
Jeremy uses trailer hitch covers to protect his hitch. He provides expert towing information at www.trailerhitchuniverse.com.
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